Living on the edge

Koen is one of those people that really know how to receive a handmade gift. He loves, cherishes and wears all the time the scarf I made for him last year and also his hat when it’s extremely cold (not anymore here in Madrid this year). After seeing how I love the sweaters I made for myself, he decided that he also wanted one. He knows about the sweater curse but he says that we are far stronger than that and making him a sweater will give us no future problems. We were browsing Ravelry for a cute cardigan for him and he finally liked Émilien. I ordered some Cascade 220 at Laine et tricot and I’m ready to start.

In the last episode of the 2 Knit Lit Chicks podcast, they proposed a KAL that starts tomorrow and runs until the end of April. You have to knit an adult cardigan withing these dates. I thought it was a nice occasion to start and have some pressure to finish this in time. This cardigan is just stockinette stitch almost from the beginning to the end, but the finished product will be far larger than the cardigans I’m used to make, so this KAL came just at the right time. I’ve already swatched and got gauge.

My Freija is more than halfway done, and considering that right now I’m not working on any other projects, I don’t mind having this two at the same time for a little while on my needles. Now let’s cross our fingers not to suffer the sweater curse.

Knitting language

knitting_lettersI got a call yesterday from a friend from university. She’s recently started knitting so we have one more thing to share. Yesterday she was telling me about the scarf she wants to make for her boyfriend and then I told her about the one I made for Koen last year and how I made it. But when I wanted to explain about the 2×2 ribbing, I had suddenly troubles to find the words in Spanish.

I first learned to knit from my grandmother when I was around ten, and at that moment I went no further than trying to make a stockinette scarf. It curled horribly, it was slow and I soon abandoned it. When I took to knitting again, one year and a half ago, my grandmother was no longer with us. I know she would have been very happy and proud to find out that I was continuing with the tradition, but sadly I was just too late. My mother and aunts don’t know how to knit. Yeah, they know about knitting and purling, but they are not interested in it so far, so they don’t do it. Therefore I had nobody to learn from or to discuss about it when I started.

Then I joined Ravelry and learned several techniques on YouTube. They were enormous sources of knowledge, and they seemed to give me everything I needed. Around that time I joined the local Stitch ‘n Bitch group. It was based in Brussels, but most of the people there were foreigners and the main spoken language was English. I work in English, and read mostly in English and I talk to my boyfriend also mostly in English, so you could guess that I got pretty used to it. My English is far from perfect but somehow it is the language I feel most comfortably with concerning knitting. I learned the stitches names, read patterns and  talked about my projects always in English. Most of the knitters I know speak English and this blog was meant to be in English because of that. Because I left Belgium but I still want to share my knitting adventures with the first people I knew face to face in this knitting world apart from my granny. And then the Ravelry community is mostly formed by English speakers or at least people who share their thoughts in English.

So when I moved back to Spain it felt kind of weird to start commenting about knitting with the local knitters and the girls at the LYS. I don’t know the names for stitches and patterns, apart from knitting, purling, garther stitch and cables; and also most of those terms in Spanish don’t make a lot of sense to me. Maybe I’m just too lazy to learn those names and I’m just happy with the enormous and vast English speaker community on internet. I tried to make a little effort today and I searched for audio podcasts in Spanish in Ravelry and iTunes, and found nothing. Maybe I didn’t search correctly. I just want to see if I can connect my knitting to my mother tongue and start enjoying it in a different way, but since my grandmother is gone I am not sure if I really need it.

And what about you? What’s your knitting language? Is it the same as your mother tongue?

How I (re)discovered knitting podcasts

feed-iconWhen I was living in Belgium I had to take two flights to visit my family. It meant a full day lost among planes and airports, and it was quite expensive, especially during peak seasons like Christmas. Now that I live in Madrid I have two choices: plane or train. The plane is almost one hour, but then you have to add up the hour that you have to arrive in advance and the 40 minutes it takes to arrive in the Madrid airport. In some cases it can take 3 hours in total. And that if there aren’t delays. By train it takes 6 hours and a half, and I can reach the train station in around half an hour. Seven hours vs. three. For this Christmas I checked the plane tickets and they were extremely expensive, and after checking the train fares, I made my decision. I paid 86 euros and Koen even got a better offer, just 50 round trip.

But then you don’t get distracted by passing security controls, getting up from your seats to check the monitors or queuing to get on the plane. You just spend almost 7 hours sitting without further distraction than a couple of movies dubbed to Spanish. Since I left Spain in 2006 I got used to watching movies in the original version, so I would only watch them unless I had nothing else to distract me. For the first trip going to Vigo I discovered that I don’t quite enjoy audio books, or maybe I just got annoyed by the voice imitating all the 13 dwarfs in The Hobbit.

For the way back I tried something else. I installed on my phone an app called 3G Watchdog that helps you to know how much of your monthly quota you are using. You introduce your monthly quota and you can get a warning if you are close to finishing it. It also gives you the option of checking how much you are using via WiFi, so that you can decide if it’s really worth having a WiFi connection for certain situations.

The need to have this program installed was that I was going to try another app: TuneIn Radio. My intention was listening to some talk shows on the radio and knitting at the same time. I love knitting, but if I am not watching some show or listening to something I get tired after a couple of hours. So I started searching and I found out that I could also search podcasts. So I entered ‘knit’ and that’s how I found the podcast of the 2 Knit Lit Chicks. I really enjoyed the two girls talking about their knitting, discussing about books and recommending other podcasts. I tried some of them and I still have some more, but for the moment my favorite is the Down Cellar Studio Podcast. I don’t know if it’s because Jen is also in her early thirties, because she also likes photography or because of her warmth, spontaneity and positivism; but I feel that somehow she connects with my inner knitter and I enjoy enormously her podcast. The first episode I listened to was the 23rd, but I am currently trying to listen to all her old episodes. I am already on episode 8 it’s a lot of  fun. She tell about her experiences, takes time to help you improve things, you almost feel like a close friend was talking to you. She mentions in one of her shows that podcasts help her to get through the day, getting the daily tasks done, and I can affirm the same and also that somehow they give me company while knitting by myself.

During that first try in the train I couldn’t listen to any complete episode of any podcast because of the poor network coverage, but now that I know what to look for, I’ll make sure that I have plenty of podcast episodes ready in my iPod for the next trip.

1 year in Madrid

Time goes fast. Ten days ago we had an anniversary. It was 1 year since we first arrive in Madrid. That hectic week looking for an apartment. And we were lucky, very lucky, so lucky that we found our apartment on our second day of search. Our tiny apartment in the heart of the charming area of Malasaña. Malasaña, with its narrow streets, few cars and people outside at every hour of the day and the night. The pedestrian square close to our apartment, always full of teenagers, kids, people with dogs, wonderful cacophony of sounds.

The apartment is quite smaller than the one we had in Brussels, but it’s a jewel in this part of the city, crammed with very old buildings. Ours is also old, but it was completely renovated inside 8 years ago. This picture is from when the apartment was still empty and we were mounting our Ikea bed:

Today is a bit greyish, but yesterday was a beautiful sunny day, like the ones that welcomed us in Madrid one year ago. We have Winter here too, a rainy day here and there, but it feels shorter than in Brussels and you often have those sunny days that completely blind you and make you smile, leaving you with blue, pinks and oranges.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c7goifK_2qY]

The Bag Making Bible (a review) and Sister’s handbag making-off

I’ve often found that the handbags and backpacks they sell in shops are far from what I want, need and like. I had it first when I wanted to buy a backpack for my laptop from work which I had to carry everyday. I got one of those messenger bags at work that just killed my back and then a trolley that was threatening to brake on the cobbled stones of Brussels. I finally bought a horrible light-weight backpack that had also waist and chest straps and it did its work wonderfully, if you look over the fact that it was hideous, red and black and much bigger than my needs. If you look in any shop, no laptop backpack will have these additional straps. So I was set: I wanted to design and make my own backpack: useful, practical, beautiful, and with tons of pockets. I looked over the internet and I found several drafts about it but nothing that could guide a newbie like me to a safe harbour without pulling my hairs out.

And then Koen got me this book for my birthday and a new handbag design world opened before my eyes. I started to go through it again and again, understanding all those new concepts and techniques. I was fascinated.

It’s written by Lisa Lam, author of the website U-handbag, which I had already used in the past to make a little purse. The site has great tutorials and patterns and it’s worth a visit.

The book is structured around 8 different models of handbags, from the very basic tote to more elaborated designs. It uses this structure to explain the needed materials and techniques. You will learn how to achieve that “semi-rigid” look and feel, and how to add those little details that make a handmade handbag look very professional. But the good part is that you are not limited to those eight designs, because each technique is carefully explained and many tips are scattered over the book about how to do things and why to do them in a specific way, so you will be able to make in no time your own designs.

I soon found that checking the pictures and reading the explanations was not enough. The best way of assessing this book was in fact using it.

After thinking for some time and knowing that my poor sewing machine was not the best for this kind of work, I finally decided to make The Organized Office Bag but in a smaller scale while I was at my mother’s place. This handbag is meant to carry a laptop and all you need at the office, but I wanted something smaller. A handbag that you could carry everyday while walking with a toddler or going to work. Something for your keys, cellphone, pens a some more little items.

With this book I learned what kinds of fabric, interlining and interfaces were best to use and how to design and place professional looking pockets.

Something I was a bit afraid of was the shoulder strap. I almost wanted to avoid making it and I thought of buying an already made one, but I couldn’t find any shop where they were selling it in Vigo.

At the end it was not difficult and I enjoyed learning how to get comfy and puffy straps. The problem came when I wanted to sew all those layers together. The strap itself was fine, but when I wanted to fold and sew the ends, even my mother’s machine had troubles. One of the sides I had to do it by hand. I think the next step will be investing in a new good sewing machine (I accept recommendations).

The result was impressive, at least for somebody who never did something like this. Wow, a beautiful, comfortable and sturdy handbag! Following the instructions on the book and getting something like this!:

The only issue I had with the book was trying to understand some of the photos, since the shot was sometimes too close and it was difficult to imagine the global picture, but nothing that at the end I couldn’t figure it out by myself. And we must also understand that adding more pictures and explanations will only make the book more expensive and less portable.

In conclusion I would give this book a 9.5 out of 10. It is really a must have for those who like sewing, for those who like handbags, for those who like to make personalized items and for those who love handmade stuff. Thumbs up for Lisa Lam and her wonderful book!

Handmade handbag (Xmas present number 6)

I wanted to make this for a very long time, but I hadn’t had the time for it and I think that my poor crappy sewing machine was probably going choke, so I delayed it for some time while keeping other options open.

I spent several days around Christmas at my mother’s place and she has a good sewing machine, so I gave it a try. I spent hours on it (three days to be precise) and there was a moment where there was no going back, it was too late for the other options, so I had to finish it and do it fast and right.

I had bought the fabric at La Guerra de los Botones in Madrid and the notions I got from a book I received from my boyfriend for my last birthday: The Bag Making Bible by Lisa Lam. I will properly review this book on another occasion, but I just wanna say now that it would have been impossible without it. I could have come up with a bag, maybe, but not as good as this one turned out to be, and for sure not after just three days of work.

At the beginning I was not sure if I wanted to buy already-made straps like the ones I’d seen in several shops in Madrid, or if I was going to make one myself. It depended a bit on the time I had left, but after asking in several shops in Vigo, it was clear that no matter what that if I wanted a strap on the handbag I was going to make it myself. And I was running out of time, working every hour that my sister was not around: morning, evening, all the time.

Then the problem arrived when I found extremely difficult to find good and beautiful metal rings for it. After several shops, I found one where they had just one kind and one size. I was almost crying remembering the Almacenes Cobián in Madrid, with all their fancy stuff.

I tried to place enough inner pockets to make any girl happy.

And I succeeded in surprising my sister. She was not expecting anything like this. And she liked it!

I will be posting more pictures from the making-off on another post where I will be reviewing the book. You can find all the other pictures anyway on my Flickr account.

Sister’s socks (Xmas present number 5)

Choosing a present for my sister was far more difficult than for the others. As far as I knew she despised knitted garments, she has lots of fancy stuff and my sense of fashion is light years far from hers. She’s the one who wears fancy stuff, I’m the one who wears comfortable clothes. So I almost decided to get her a handbag, but somehow all the ones I’d seen in shops looked hideous to me (maybe I was just left behind by fashion).

While I was busy working as fast as possible on my mother’s Nashira and counting the hours and rows to go, I got a call from my sister. It was more or less one week before Christmas. During the call she urged me to make her a pair of socks (!).

I don’t need to say that this took me completely by surprise. My sister? And she wants me to knit her something? Knitted socks?

I have to explain that due to the crisis, the children decoration shop where my sister used to work closed last September, and she was offered a job at a sortingdepot. The place where she works now is quite cold and she has often cold feet. After hearing wonders about the socks I made for my mother (she confessed to have worn them for almost a week before the heating was turned on her building), she also wanted a pair.

Since my mother (ha, she was also in trouble) proposed to exchange presents on the Three-Wise-Men day (January 6th) I finally made it, because I finished this pair the last day of the year. I didn’t make anything fancy (no time for that), so I made again Hermione’s everyday socks.

I had to adapt my recipe to my sister’s size (larger than mine), and it took me a while to figure out how to adjust the heel, but the result was as good as always.

The feet in the pictures are mine. That’s why I’m wearing another pair of socks underneath. My feet are too small for this socks, and I’m quite proud that they finally came out with the right size. My sister already worn them at work. And I’m also happy that another member of the family learned to appreciate knitted stuff. All is not lost 🙂

Nashira and the provisional cast on (Xmas present number 4)

One thing was sure: I had to knit another scarf for my mother and give it to her as a Christmas present. Just after she had her surgery, in September of 2010, she started using scarves and shawls to conceal that horrible T scar. It’s when I started the tradition of making her a new scarf more or less every 3 months. It doesn’t matter that after a while she gave up on this and started to show some cleavage. I persisted on it, since she still wears them in Autumn and Winter.

After some trial and error, I found out the style she preferred. When skyping with her, I found her often wearing the Butternut Scarf or the Saroyan I made for her. So it had to be something more or less rectangular, soft, light and warm. I decided to go again for Malabrigo Lace, and this time it was lavender. After browsing for a while I found a pattern that met the requisites needed by my mother: Nashira.

Since it was a lace scarf I knew that it was going to take me some time and a bit of concentration. That was what delayed it a bit. I like to watch something while knitting: movies, TV shows, … When I started with it I could not do it because I had to focus on the pattern and that made the knitting periods shorter. I discovered that if I’m not distracted watching something, talking or listening to someone, I get tired faster. So the periods where shorter than they should be. Soon I improved my multitasking and started to watch videos again and from then onwards it started going faster. I have to say that I did not have to unravel more than 1 row due to screwing up. The middle section is quite repetitive, and once you get the hang of it it goes like a bliss. The ends are a bit more elaborated but since it’s a rectangle and all rows have the same amount of stitches, it’s not complicated (I still remember that I had to re-knit great part of the Ishbel because I had made several mistakes).

Something that I learned with this pattern and that I was a bit afraid of was the provisional cast-on. After watching several videos I decided to do it with a circular needle. After this I promised myself that I was never going to be put off by a provisional cast-on.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wlZ6D7SbpwY]

It’s a pity that I don’t have a picture of my mother wearing it, but with all the rush we forgot to do it until the last minute and then it was late and there was no time. I hope my sister takes a picture so that you can see how it looks like.

Owlet for my dear 3 year old niece (Xmas present number 3)

When I wore my Owls during Christmas last year, my little 2 year old niece was stunned. She loved the design and those eyes standing out. And she was only 2 years! I promised that I would make it for her one day. Her birthday is in mid December, so even this was a birthday present, it was almost Christmas!

After asking her, my sister and my mother several times, I reached the conclusion that my niece’s favourite colour was pink, yes, pink. Sure pink? Yes. So I went for Malabrigo Chunky Damask.

I started this project during a visit in Belgium (to give Koen’s nephew his presents) and I only had with me my 5.5 and 6 mm needles. Since I tend to knit a bit loose I decided to go on.

Substituted the 2×2 ribbing for 1×1 twisted ribbing. I did the normal ribbing for my owls and it stretched a bit too much. I did the twisted ribbing for my Bliss and it’s holding better.

I had a little problem with the owls. This size requires 12 owls (6 on the front and 6 on the back), so it’s possible to place them symmetrically, but I didn’t realize until I was halfway with them so, after I put the sweater off for some days, asking people if it looked right to them and almost having nightmares, I decided to rip that part off and start the owls again. In fact this sweater took me ages due to the time that I postponed this decision. I understand that this doesn’t work for all sizes, but I would have appreciated a comment on it on the pattern for at least the sizes where it was possible (and having few owls it’s really visible).

I hate sewing, hand sewing, buttons sewing. So I also postponed that part and I found myself sewing 24 buttons in a train to Vigo to finally see my family and when I was supposed to have this and the rest of the presents ready.

We made such a couple with our owls!

I was a bit worried by the size (clothes for children look so tiny) but finally it fitted perfectly. One of the owls seems cross-eyed in this picture because she recently learned to button and unbutton and that’s what she first tried when she saw the sweater. I put it right back just afterwards.

The perfect hat for him (Xmas present number 2)

This was initially intended to be a Christmas present, but it was getting so cold that I made it way before Christmas.

After the big success of the Artesano Superwash Merino Wool, Koen wanted a hat made with it. We searched together on Ravelry for the perfect hat for him. It was funny to see him choosing models, colours, textures. From what I was seeing, it was clear that he wanted a simple ribbed hat. We narrowed the search and we finally found the one.

It was a very simple hat but I had to make sure that it fitted him (it’s not that he has a big head, he’s just very tall and his head keeps the proportion) and that he could roll the brim enough to make sure his ears stayed warm.

So I casted on 100 stitches instead of the original 80 and I made it long enough. This wool was too thin but held double made exactly what I wanted. The result was a nice, simple, squishy, wearable and very warm hat. He never goes out without it when it’s cold. I remember now the horrible crochet hat I made him some years ago and I feel proud that I could finally make a decent hat for him. He loves it and I love it.

He likes that even wearing his glasses, not a draft of cold air gets inside. That was often a problem with almost any hat he wore before.